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Nobody’s Darling
Photo by Susanne Fairfax

Women's History Month

Spotlights

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In Chicago, every neighborhood is home to a diverse community of small businesses. This month, we’re celebrating Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day by featuring some of the city’s most beloved women-owned businesses.

Meet the people behind the state’s first women-led brewery, an LGBTQ-inclusive cocktail bar, Chicago’s first Black woman-owned bookstore, and more. These are stories you can only find in Chicago.

<h4 id="angela-barnes">Angela Barnes: Nobody's Darling</h4>

Angela Barnes: Nobody's Darling

Angela Barnes co-owns inclusive cocktail bar Nobody’s Darling in Andersonville with Renauda Riddle.

“We definitely wanted to make sure that the space was women-centered. And for us, that meant women— not just queer women, but all women — felt comfortable being there. We started with that as our center point and expanded outward.

Since college, I’ve been very much interested in Black women poets and writers, so I went into my library and pulled some of my poetry books off the shelf. And this Alice Walker poem Be Nobody’s Darling was one of the dog-eared pages, and I realized this is our statement, this is what we want.

We wanted people to feel, when they came into our bar, that they can be who they are. They can show up as their authentic selves and we will welcome them. And we will give them a wonderful drink. I don’t think Alice Walker was really talking about drinks, but I feel like that’s part of it.”

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<h4 id="lynn-sarah">Lynn Mooney and Sarah Hollenbeck: Women & Children First</h4>

Lynn Mooney and Sarah Hollenbeck: Women & Children First

Lynn Mooney and Sarah Hollenbeck are co-owners of feminist bookstore Women & Children First in Andersonville.

“Our feminism informs everything we do in the store. Not only the books we order, but how we treat our staff, how we run the place and our relationships within the community.

It’s about amplifying the voice of underrepresented people. That’s really the focus of the store and it’s evolved as feminism has evolved.

We had a pretty big existential crisis back in March because what sets us apart from an online retailer is that we offer an in-person experience. We have hundreds of events every year with big-name and local authors. So suddenly, everything we’d been saying we do best was no longer safe to do. It was really difficult for us to try and pivot and discover new reasons for why we matter and why we exist.

Our focus remains on creating community, but within a virtual space. We try as hard as possible to replicate an in-person experience in the online platform. And we leaned into our politics even more. There were no federal mandates to support our most vulnerable people, so we recognized we were the ones who would have to do that for each other.” — Sarah Hollenbeck

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<h4 id="racquel-fields">Racquel Fields: 14 Parish Restaurant & Rhum Bar</h4>

Racquel Fields: 14 Parish Restaurant & Rhum Bar

Racquel Fields is the owner of Caribbean-inspired 14 Parish Restaurant in Hyde Park.

“We are a true rum bar. What I would really like to bring to the South Side is a true cocktail experience. There are all kinds of wonderful food in this area, but it’s very difficult to find a bar that actually delivers handcrafted cocktails in the way that you might find downtown. So we work very hard on being really creative and innovative with our cocktail offerings. 

Being African American, what’s really cool about rum is that a lot of rum history is Black history. So we get to showcase our own roots by exposing our customers to the history behind rum. For instance, a lot of the cocktails on our menu are named after mythological characters from the Caribbean, which isn’t a widely studied subject, but is extremely interesting and tied directly to our own culture.”

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<h4 id="angela-leung">Angela Leung: Hing Kee Restaurant</h4>

Angela Leung: Hing Kee Restaurant

Angela Leung and her family own Hing Kee and other beloved Chinatown restaurants.

“I’m a second generation business owner. My parents have been involved in Chicago’s Chinatown for quite some time now, being serial entrepreneurs. They’re hard-working people — they work probably 100-hour weeks, seven days a week.

I do everything from making the noodles to business admin stuff.  I definitely grew up at the restaurant. It was such a huge part of my identity and always a calling to be a part of the food business.

Our staff, they watched me grow up, they’re my family. And their safety matters to me the most. So it was kind of a no brainer that when the pandemic started, that we’d close our doors temporarily. That was definitely a really hard financial step that we had to take, but it was clearly the correct one for our staff safety.

I think what makes Hing Kee special is all the family recipes that are made with love. We make all the fillings, the dumpling skins, and the noodles from scratch. This is very much a family establishment. It’s hard to put into words, but it is quite special.”

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<h4 id="dominique-leach">Dominique Leach: Lexington Betty Smokehouse</h4>

Dominique Leach: Lexington Betty Smokehouse

Dominique Leach is the chef and owner of Lexington Betty, with several locations in Chicago.

“I was classically trained in French and Italian cooking. I’ve just always been good at barbeque, it’s always been a hobby of mine and it’s very important to my family. This is just me bringing my culture and what we grew up eating to the rest of the world. I’m just happy and lucky that people have been so receptive to it.

It means something to me to be living proof of what’s possible. I come from nothing. My mom is a single mother and she struggled. And I work hard to be that proof to other people. You can make something out of nothing. I just had a little savings and put it into the truck and despite obstacles, I’m still standing.”

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<h4 id="tigist-reda">Tigist Reda: Demera Ethiopian Restaurant</h4>

Tigist Reda: Demera Ethiopian Restaurant

Tigist Reda is the executive chef and owner of Demera Ethiopian Restaurantin Uptown.

“We serve authentic Ethiopian food. Our food is communal. I just like that connectedness, like you’re sharing a meal from one plate and you’re having a conversation. It just connects you organically to one another.

The neighborhood has a lot of Ethiopians, but also we have a lot of people who never had Ethiopian food. We’ve been open 13 years, but even now, half the people have never had it. So for a lot of people, it’s shocking that there’s no silverware. We can bring it out if you need it, but this is how we eat it. And most people enjoy it, it becomes fun.”

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<h4 id="stephanie-hart">Stephanie Hart: Brown Sugar Bakery</h4>

Stephanie Hart: Brown Sugar Bakery

Stephanie Hart is the owner and founder of Brown Sugar Bakery in Grand Crossing.

“I started practicing baking at home. I missed my grandmother, and I missed the way that she baked for us. I wanted that particular cake she made, which was a pineapple coconut cake.

I think that what I had the opportunity to do in my experimenting stage was to develop a cake that made me feel good and made other people feel good.

There is power in food. I think that food is emotional, when you make something with love and intention. I think Brown Sugar Bakery is part of so many families — we call them Brown Sugar Babies. It’s those kinds of connections that make me feel really, really good.”

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<h4 id="danielle-mullens">Danielle Mullen, Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery</h4>

Danielle Mullen, Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery

Danielle Mullen is the owner of Semicolon in Wicker Park, Chicago’s first Black woman-owned bookstore.

“When I opened Semicolon, I wanted to put together two things that are emotionally effective, which are literature and art.

I never expected too many other people to be in the store. The store was created for my liking and my liking only. I just wanted somewhere to sit around and read books and look at the art. And if other people liked it, great. If they didn’t, it wouldn’t be a big deal because I like it. We didn’t expect to be where we are now.

We have people from all walks of life that come in and they say the exact same thing: It feels like home, and they just want to sit and hang out all day. If you have never felt at home anywhere else, you will definitely feel at home here.”

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<h4 id="Tynnetta-Qaiyim">Tynnetta Qaiyim: Black Ensemble Theater</h4>

Tynnetta Qaiyim: Black Ensemble Theater

Tynnetta Qaiyim is the Chief Operating Officer of the Black Ensemble Theater in Uptown.

“I think that a key driver of racism is the lack of understanding about other people and cultures and how these cultures have contributed to the fabric of America. At Black Ensemble, we bring people together. We tell stories primarily around African-American culture and lives, but those stories are American stories. That’s American history, and we share all of that in a way that’s engaging.

We are more than just a live performing arts venue. Black Ensemble is also embedded in the community through educational outreach. We reach about 10,000 children in a normal year through our programs. We are very much integrated into the Uptown community. Without that community, we couldn’t survive, we wouldn’t thrive. And we want to make sure that we are doing right by the community that we’re in.”

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<h4 id="kirti-sheth">Kirti Sheth: Arya Bhavan<h4>

Kirti Sheth: Arya Bhavan

Kirti Sheth is the head chef at Arya Bhavan in West Ridge.

“I grew up on my family’s farm in India so eating plant-based, fresh foods is all I’ve ever known. I always say I’m vegan by birth.

My mission has always been to share my love for healthy food with others. We first opened as a vegetarian Indian restaurant and then we transitioned to 100% vegan and gluten free. 

We use ayurvedic spices, which are not just full of flavor; they are packed with essential nutrients and have many health benefits. Even my desserts include spices, which give them a surprising Indian twist.

Chicago is a very diverse city with lots of different cultures, which can be seen first and foremost in the diversity of the restaurant scene. You can get anything on Devon Avenue. There are so many different ethnic foods and international markets. It was my dream to own a restaurant here, so I’m proud to say that we’re business owners on Devon Avenue.”

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<h4 id="michelle-wendi">Michelle Foik & Wendi Cabo: ERIS Brewery and Cider House</h4>

Michelle Foik & Wendi Cabo: ERIS Brewery and Cider House

Michelle Foik, Wendi Cabo, and Katy Pizza are the all-women team behind ERIS Brewery in Irving Park.

“It’s the first brewery in the state of Illinois that’s owned and operated by women. I think the first time I ever got nervous was when my business partner Katy Pizza and I opened the doors and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is really happening now.’

We bought the building in July 2015. It was the first building we looked at. It’s an old Masonic temple that was built in the 1900s. And when we walked in, it’s just this big, beautiful open space with windows and lights and it’s so cool.

We have been just inundated with people that believe in the same things that we believe in, that want to support a woman-ran business. It’s quite amazing, we see a lot of diversity within the clientele that come in the doors. It’s great to be welcomed by everyone.” — Michelle Foik

“The neighborhood has been so supportive of us and we see a lot of new faces even through all of this. And seeing the same people come in all the time, you get to know them, you get to know their families. It really means a lot. And they’ve really been there for us through all of it.

We just want everyone to come in and have an experience that means something to them because it means a lot to us to do everything that we’re doing.” — Wendi Cabo

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<h4 id="scotts">Arianna Scott: Atmos Coffee Shop</h4>

Arianna Scott: Atmos Coffee Shop

Arianna Scott and her husband Antoine own and operate Atmos Coffee Shop in Humboldt Park.

“We both love coffee, we had our first date over coffee. And I’m Puerto Rican, so coffee is just the center point of everything. It’s very much a cultural thing for me.

We wanted a space where people can feel safe and welcome. With our job training for youth in the community, our goal is to remove a barrier for someone of color that wants to get into the coffee industry.” — Arianna Scott

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